From Fors Clavigera
by John Ruskin

From Letter LXXVI.

VENICE, Sunday, 4th March, 1877.

. . .

(Three enormous prolonged trumpetings, or indecent bellowings audible, I should think, ten miles off from another steamer entering the Giudecca, interrupt me again,— and you need not think that I am peculiar in sensitiveness: no decent family worship, no gentle singing, no connectedly thoughtful reading, would be possible to any human being under these conditions, wholly inevitable now by any person of moderate means in Venice. With considerable effort, and loss of nervous energy, I force myself back into course of thought.)

You don’t, perhaps, feel distinctly how people can be joyful in ironwork, or why I call it ‘poetry’?

Yet the only piece of good part-singing I heard in Italy, for a whole summer, was over a blacksmith’s forge; (and there has been disciplined music, as you know, made of its sounds before now; and you may, perhaps, have seen and heard Mr. G. W. Moore as the Christy Blacksmith). But I speak of better harmonies to be got out of your work than Handel’s, when you come at it with a true heart, fervently, as I hope this company of you are like to do, to whom St. George has now given thirteen acres of English ground for their own: so long as they observe his laws.

They shall not be held to them at first under any formal strictness for this is mainly their own adventure; St. George merely securing coign of vantage for it, and requiring of them observance only of his bare first principles good work, and no moving of machinery by fire. But I believe they will be glad, in many respects, to act by St. George’s advice; and, as I hope, truly begin his active work; of which, therefore, it seems to me now necessary to state unambiguously the religions laws which underlie the Creed and vow of full Companionship, and of which his retainers will, I doubt not, soon recognize the outward observance to be practically useful.

You cannot but have noticed any of you who read attentively,— that Fors has become much more distinctly Christian in its tone, during the last two years; and those of you who know with any care my former works, must feel a yet more vivid contrast between the spirit in which the preface to ‘The Crown of Wild Olive’ was written, and that in which I am now collating for you the Mother Laws of the Trades of Venice.

This is partly because I am every day compelled, with increasing amazement, and renewed energy, to contradict the idiotic teaching of Atheism which is multiplied in your ears; but it depends far more essentially on two vital causes: the first, that since Fors began, “such things have befallen me” * personally, which have taught me much, but of which I need not at present speak; the second, that in the work I did at Assisi in 1874, I discovered a fallacy which had underlain all my art teaching, (and the teaching of Art, as I understand it, is the teaching of all things,) since the year 1558. Of which I must be so far tedious to you as to give some brief account. For it is continually said of me, and I observe has been publicly repeated lately by one of my very good friends, that I have “changed my opinions” about painting and architecture. And this, like all the worst of falsehoods, has one little kernel of distorted truth in the heart of it, which it is practically necessary, now, that you, my Sheffield essayists of St. George’s service, should clearly know.

All my first books, to the end of the ‘Stones of Venice,’ were written in the simple belief I had been taught as a child; and especially the second volume of ‘Modern Painters’ was an outcry of enthusiastic praise of religious painting, in which you will find me placing Fra Angelico, (see the closing paragraph of the book,) above all other painters.

But during my work at Venice, I discovered the gigantic power of Tintoret, and found that there was a quite different spirit in that from the spirit of Angelico: and, analysing Venetian work carefully, I found,— and told fearlessly, in spite of my love for the masters,— that there was “no religion whatever in any work of Titian’s; and that Tintoret only occasionally forgot himself into religion.”— I repeat now, and reaffirm, this statement; but must ask the reader to add to it, what I partly indeed said in other places at the time, that only when Tintoret forgets himself, does he truly find himself.

Now you see that among the four pieces of art I have given you for standards to study, only one is said to be ‘perfect,’— Titian’s. And ever since the ‘Stones of Venice’ were written, Titian was given in all my art-teaching as a standard of perfection. Conceive the weight of this problem, then, on my inner mind how the most perfect work I knew, in my special business, could be done “wholly without religion”!

I set myself to work out that problem thoroughly in 1858, and arrived at the conclusion which is an entirely sound one, and which did indeed alter, from that time forward, the tone and method of my teaching,— that human work must be done honourably and thoroughly, because we are now Men;— whether we ever expect to be angels, or ever were slugs, being practically no matter. We are now Human creatures, and must, at our peril, do Human that is to say, affectionate, honest, and earnest work.**

Farther, I found, and have always since taught, and do teach, and shall teach, I doubt not, till I die, that in resolving to do our work well, is the only sound foundation of any religion whatsoever; and that by that resolution only, and what we have done, and not by our belief, Christ will judge us, as He has plainly told us He will, (though nobody believes Him,) in the Resurrection.

But, beyond this, in the year 1858, I came to another conclusion, which was a false one.

My work on the Venetians in that year not only convinced me of their consummate power, but showed me that there was a great worldly harmony running through all they did opposing itself to the fanaticism of the Papacy; and in this worldly harmony of human and artistic power, my own special idol, Turner, stood side by side with Tintoret; so also Velasquez, Sir Joshua, and Gainsborough, stood with Titian and Veronese; and those seven men quite demonstrably and indisputably giants in the domain of Art. of whom, in the words of Velasquez himself, “Tizian z’e quel che porta la Bandiera,”— stood, as heads of a great Worldly Army, worshippers of Worldly visible Truth, against (as it seemed then to me), and assuredly distinct from, another sacred army, bearing the Rule of the Catholic Church in the strictest obedience, and headed by Cimabue, Giotto, and Angelico; worshippers not of a worldly and visible Truth, but of a visionary one, which they asserted to be higher; yet under the (as they asserted supernatural) teaching of the Spirit of this Truth, doing less perfect work than their unassisted opposites!

All this is entirely so; fact tremendous in its unity, and difficult enough, as it stands to me even now; but as it stood to me then, wholly insoluble, for I was still in the bonds of my old Evangelical faith; and, in 1858, it was with me, Protestantism or nothing: the crisis of the whole turn of my thoughts being one Sunday morning, at Turin, when, from before Paul Veronese’s Queen of Sheba. and under quite overwhelmed sense of his God-given power, I went away to a Waldensian chapel, where a little squeaking idiot was preaching to an audience of seventeen old women and three louts,*** that they were the only children of God in Turin; and that all the people in Turin outside the chapel, and all the people in the world out of sight of Monte Viso, would be damned. I came out of the chapel, in sum of twenty years of thought, a conclusively un-converted man converted by this little Piedmontese gentleman, so powerful in his organ-grinding, inside-out, as it were. “Here is an end to my ‘Mother-Law’ of Protestantism anyhow!— and now what is there left?” You will find what was left, as, in much darkness and sorrow of heart I gathered it, variously taught in my books, written between 1858 and 1874. It is all sound and good, as far as it goes: whereas all that went before was so mixed with Protestant egotism and insolence, that, as you have probably heard, I won’t republish, in their first form, any of those former books.****

Thus then it went with me till 1874, when I had lived sixteen full years with ‘the religion of Humanity,’ for rough and strong and sure foundation of everything; but on that, building Greek and Arabian superstructure, taught me at Venice, full of sacred colour and melancholy shade. Which is the under meaning of my answer to the Capuchin (Fors. Aug. 1875, p. 139), that I was ‘more a Turk than a Christian.’ The Capuchin insisted, as you see, nevertheless, that I might have a bit of St. Francis’s cloak: which accepting thankfully, I went on to Assisi, and there, by the kindness of my good friend Padre Tini, and others, I was allowed, (and believe I am the first painter who ever was allowed.) to have scaffolding erected above the high altar, and therefore above the body of St. Francis which lies in the lower chapel beneath it; and thence to draw what I could of the great fresco of Giotto, “The marriage of Poverty and Francis.”*****

And while making this drawing, I discovered the fallacy under which I had been tormented for sixteen years. the fallacy that Religious artists were weaker than Irreligious. I found that all Giotto’s ‘weaknesses,’ (so called,) were merely absences of material science. He did not know, and could not, in his day, so much of perspective as Titian,— so much of the laws of light and shade, or so much of technical composition. But I found he was in the make of him, and contents, a very much stronger and greater man than Titian; that the things I had fancied easy in his work, because they were so unpretending and simple, were nevertheless entirely inimitable; that the Religion in him, instead of weakening, had solemnized and developed every faculty of his heart and hand; and finally that his work, in all the innocence of it, was yet a human achievement and possession, quite above everything that Titian had ever done!

‘But what is all this about Titian and Angelico to you,’ are you thinking? “We belong to cotton mills iron mills;— what is Titian to us! and to all men. Heirs only of simial life, what Angelico?”

Patience yet for a little while. They shall both be at least something to you before St. George’s Museum is six months older.

Meantime, don’t be afraid that I am going to become a Roman Catholic, or that I am one, in disguise. I can no more become a Roman-Catholic, than again an Evangelical-Protestant. I am a ‘Catholic’ of those Catholics, to whom the Catholic Epistle of St. James is addressed “the Twelve Tribes which are scattered abroad”— the literally or spiritually wandering Israel of all the Earth. The St. George’s creed includes Turks, Jews, infidels, and heretics; and I am myself much of a Turk, more of a Jew; alas, most of all an infidel; but not an atom of a heretic: Catholic, I, of the Catholics; holding only for sure God’s order to his scattered Israel,— “He hath shown thee, oh man, what is good; and what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Thy God.”

‘Humbly.’— Have you the least idea, do you think, my Sheffield friends, what humility means,— or have any of your dress-coated lecturers?

. . .

For both King and Priest are for ever, after the Order of Melchizedek, and none that rise against them shall prosper: and this, in your new plannings and fancyings, my good Sheffielders, you will please take to heart, that though to yourselves, in the first confusion of things, St. George leaves all liberty of conscience consistent with the perfect law of liberty, (which, however, you had better precisely understand from James the Bishop, who has quite other views concerning it than Mr. John Stuart Mill;— James i. 25; ii. 12, 13), so soon as you have got yourselves settled, and feel the ground well under you, we must have a school built on it for your children, with enforced sending of them to be schooled; in earliest course of which schooling your old Parish-church golden legend will be written by every boy, and stitched by every girl, and engraven with diamond point into the hearts of both,—

“Fear God. Honour the King.”


I. Affairs of the Company.

A few of the Sheffield working-men who admit the possibility of St. George’s notions being just, have asked me to let them rent some ground from the Company, whereupon to spend what spare hours they have, of morning or evening, in useful labour. I have accordingly authorized the sale of 1,200 worth of our stock, to be re-invested on a little estate, near Sheffield, of thirteen acres, with good water supply. The workmen undertake to St. George for his three per cent.; and if they get tired of the bargain, the land will be always worth our stock. I have no knowledge yet of the men’s plans in detail; nor, as I have said in the text, shall I much interfere with them, until I see how they develope themselves. But here is at last a little piece of England given into the English workman’s bond, and heaven’s.

II. Affairs of the Master.

I am beginning, for the first time in my life, to admit some notion into my head that I am a great man. God knows at how little rate I value the little that is in me; but the maintaining myself now quietly against the contradiction of every one of my best friends, rising as it does into more harmonious murmur of opposition at every new act to which I find myself compelled by compassion and justice, requires more than ordinary firmness: and the absolute fact that, being entirely at one in my views of Nature and life with every great classic author, I am yet alone in the midst of a modern crowd which rejects them all, is something to plume myself upon,— sorrowfully enough: but haughtily also. And now here has Fors reserved a strange piece of if one’s vanity were to speak good fortune for me; namely, that after being permitted, with my friend Mr. Sillar’s guidance, to declare again in its full breadth the great command against usury, and to explain the intent of Shakspeare throughout the ‘Merchant of Venice’ (see ‘Munera Pulveris’), it should also have been reserved for me to discover the first recorded words of Venice herself, on her Rialto!— words of the ninth century,****** inscribed on her first church, St. James of the Rialto; and entirely unnoticed by all historians, hitherto; yet in letters which he who ran might read: only the historians never looked at the church, or at least, looked only at the front of it and never round the corners. When the church was restored in the sixteenth century, the inscription, no more to be obeyed, was yet (it seems) in reverence for the old writing, put on the gable at the back, where, an outhouse standing a little in the way, nobody noticed it any more till I came on it, poking about in search of the picturesque. I found it afterwards recorded in a manuscript catalogue of ancient inscriptions in Venice, in St. Mark’s library (and as I write this page, Sunday, March llth, 1877, the photograph I have had made of it is brought in to me now in the Sheffield Museum). And this is the inscription on a St. George’s Cross, with a narrow band of marble beneath marble so good that the fine edges of the letters might have been cut yesterday.

On the cross

“Be thy Cross, oh Christ, the true safety of this place.” (In case of mercantile panics, you see.)

On the band beneath it

“Around this temple, let the merchant’s law be just his weights true, and his agreements guileless.”

Those, so please you, are the first words of Venice to the mercantile world nor words only, but coupled with such laws as I have set before you perfect laws of ‘liberty and fraternity,’ such as you know not, nor yet for many a day, can again learn.

It is something to be proud of to have deciphered this for you; and more to have shown you how you may attain to this honesty through Frankness. For indeed the law of St. George, that our dealings and fortunes are to be openly known, goes deeper even than this law of Venice, for it cuts at the root, not only of dishonesty, but of avarice and pride. Nor am I sorry that in myself submitting to it, my pride must be considerably mortified. If all my affairs had been conducted with prudence, or if my present position in the world were altogether stately, it might have been pleasant to unveil the statue of one’s economy for public applause. But I scarcely think even those of my readers who least understand me, will now accuse me of ostentation.

My father left all his fortune to my mother and me: to my mother, thirty-seven thousand pounds******* and the house at Denmark Hill for life; to me, a hundred and twenty thousand,******** his leases at Ilerne and Denmark Hills, his freehold pottery at Greenwich, and his pictures, then estimated by him as worth ten thousand pounds, but now worth at least three times that sum.

My mother made two wills; one immediately after my father’s death; the other (in gentle forgetfulness of all worldly things past)— immediately before her own. Both are in the same terms, “I leave all I have to my son.” This sentence, expanded somewhat by legal artifice, remains yet pathetically clear, as the brief substance of both documents. I have therefore to-day, in total account of my stewardship, to declare what I have done with a hundred and fifty-seven thousand pounds; and certain houses and lands besides. In giving which account I shall say nothing of the share that other people have had in counselling or mis-counselling me; nor of my reasons for what I have done. St. George’s bishops do not ask people who advised them, or what they intended to do; but only what they did.

My first performance was the investment of fifty thousand pounds in ‘entirely safe’ mortgages, which gave me five per cent, instead of three. I very soon, however, perceived it to be no less desirable, than difficult, to get quit of these ‘entirely safe’ mortgages. The last of them that was worth anything came conveniently in last year (see ‘Fors’ accounts). I lost about twenty thousand pounds on them, altogether.

In the second place. I thought it rather hard on my father’s relations that he should have left all his money to me only; and as I was very fond of some of them, indulged myself, and relieved my conscience at the same time, by giving seventeen thousand pounds to those I liked best. Money which has turned out to be quite rightly invested, and at a high interest; and has been fruitful to me of many good things, and much happiness.

Next I parted with some of my pictures, too large for the house I proposed to live in, and bought others at treble the price, the dealers always assuring me that the public would not look at any picture which I had seen reason to part with; and that I had only my own eloquence to thank for the prices of those I wished to buy.********

I bought next a collection of minerals (the foundation now of what are preparing Sheffield and other schools) for a stipulated sum of three thousand pounds, on the owner’s statement of its value. It proved not to be worth five hundred. I went to law about it. The lawyers charged me a thousand pounds for their own services; gave me a thousand pounds back, out of the three; and made the defendant give me another five hundred pounds’ worth of minerals. On the whole, a satisfactory legal performance; but it took two years in the doing, and caused me’much worry; the lawyers spending most of the time they charged me for, in cross-examining me, and other witnesses, as to whether the agreement was made in the front or the back shop, with other particulars, interesting in a picturesque point of view, but wholly irrelevant to the business.

Then Brantwood was offered me, which I bought, without seeing it, for fifteen hundred pounds; (the fact being that I have no time to see things, and must decide at a guess; or not at all).

Then the house at Brantwood, a mere shed of rotten timber and loose stone, had to be furnished, and repaired. For old acquaintance sake, I went to my father’s upholsterer in London, (instead of the country Coniston one, as I ought,) and had five pounds charged me for a footstool; the repairs also proving worse than complete rebuilding; and the moving one’s chattels from London, no small matter. I got myself at last settled at my tea table, one summer evening, with my view of the lake for a net four thousand pounds all told. I afterwards built a lodge nearly as big as the house, for a married servant, and cut and terraced a kitchen garden out of the ‘steep wood’ ********* another two thousand transforming themselves thus into “utilities embodied in material objects”; but these latter operations, under my own immediate direction, turning out approvable by neighbours, and, I imagine, not unprofitable as investment.

All these various shiftings of harness, and getting into saddle,— with the furnishing also of my rooms at Oxford, and the pictures and universal acquisitions aforesaid may be very moderately put at fifteen thousand for a total. I then proceeded to assist my young relation in business; with resultant loss, as before related of fifteen thousand; of which indeed he still holds himself responsible for ten, if ever able to pay it; but one of the pieces of the private message sent me, with St. Ursula’s on Christmas Day, was that I should forgive this debt altogether. Which hereby my cousin will please observe, is very heartily done; and he is to be my cousin as he used to be, without any more thought of it.

Then, for my St. George and Oxford gifts there are good fourteen thousand gone nearer fifteen even after allowing for stock prices, but say fourteen.

And finally, you see what an average year of carefully restricted expense has been to me!— Say 5,500 for thirteen years, or, roughly, seventy thousand; and we have this I hope not beyond me sum in addition:—

Loss on mortgages20,000
Gift to relations17,000
Loss to relations15,000
Harness and stable expenses15,000
St. George and Oxford14,000
And added yearly spending70,000

Those are the clearly stateable and memorable heads of expenditure more I could give, if it were needful; still, when one is living on one’s capital, the melting away is always faster than one expects; and the final state of affairs is, that on this 1st of April, 1877, my goods and chattels are simply these following:—

In funded cash six thousand Bank Stock, worth, at present prices, something more than fifteen thousand pounds.

Brantwood worth, certainly with its house, and furnitures, five thousand.

Marylebone freehold and leaseholds three thousand five hundred.

Greenwich freehold twelve hundred.

Herne Hill leases and other little holdings thirteen hundred.

And pictures and books, at present lowest auction prices, worth at least double my Oxford insurance estimate of thirty thousand; but put them at no more, and you will find that, gathering the wrecks of me together, I could still now retire to a mossy hermitage, on a little property of fifty-four thousand odd pounds; more than enough to find me in meal and cresses. So that I have not at all yet reached my limit proposed in Munera Pulveris, — of dying ‘as poor as possible,’ nor consider myself ready for the digging scenes in Timon of Athens. Accordingly, I intend next year, when St. George’s work really begins, to redress my affairs in the following manner:—

First. I shall make over the Marylebone property entirely to the St. George’s Company, under Miss Hill’s superintendence always. I have already had the value of it back in interest, and have no business now to keep it any more.

Secondly. The Greenwich property was my father’s, and I am sure he would like me to keep it. I shall keep it therefore; and in some way, make it a Garden of Tuileries, honourable to my father, and to the London he lived in.

Thirdly. Brantwood I shall keep, to live upon, with its present servants necessary, all, to keep it in good order; and to keep me comfortable, and fit for my work. I may not be able to keep quite so open a house there as I have been accustomed to do: that remains to be seen.

Fourthly. My Herne Hill leases and little properties that bother me, I shall make over to my pet cousin whose children, and their donkey, need good supplies of bread and butter, and hay: she always promising to keep my old nursery for a lodging to me, when I come to town.

Fifthly. Of my ready cash, I mean to spend to the close of this year, another three thousand pounds, in amusing myself with such amusement as is yet possible to me at Venice, and on the Alps, or elsewhere; and as, at the true beginning of St. George’s work, I must quit myself of usury and the Bank of England, I shall (at some loss you will find, on estimate) then buy for myself twelve thousand of Consols stock, which, if the nation hold its word, will provide me with three hundred and sixty pounds a-year the proper degrees of the annual circle, according to my estimate, of a bachelor gentleman’s proper income, on which, if he cannot live, he deserves speedily to die. And this, with Brantwood strawberries and cream, I will for my own poor part, undertake to live upon, uncomplainingly, as Master of St. George’s Company,— or die. But, for my dependants, and customary charities, further provision must be made; or such dependencies and charities must end. Virtually, I should then be giving away the lives of these people to St. George, and not my own.


Sixthly. Though I have not made a single farthing by my literary work last year,********** I have paid Messrs. Hazell, Watson, and Viney an approximate sum of 800 for printing my new books, which sum has been provided by the sale of the already printed ones. I have only therefore now to stop working; and I shall receive regular pay for my past work a gradually increasing, and I have confidence enough in St. George and myself to say an assuredly still increasing, income, on which I have no doubt I can sufficiently maintain all my present servants and pensioners; and perhaps even also sometimes indulge myself with a new missal. New Turner drawings are indeed out of the question; but, as I have, already thirty large and fifty or more small ones, and some score of illuminated MSS., I may get through the declining years of my aesthetic life, it seems to me, on those terms, resignedly, and even spare a book or two or even a Turner or two, if needed to my St. George’s schools.

Now, to stop working for the press, will be very pleasant to me not to say medicinal, or even necessary very soon. But that does riot mean stopping work. ‘Deucalion’ and ‘Proserpina’ can go on far better without printing; and if the public wish for them, they can subscribe for them. In any case, I shall go on at leisure, God willing, with the works I have undertaken.

Lastly. My Oxford professorship will provide for my expenses at Oxford as long as I am needed there.

Such, Companions mine, is your Master’s position in life;— and such his plan for the few years of it which may yet remain to him. You will not, I believe, be disposed wholly to deride either what I have done, or mean to do; but of this you may be assured, that my spending, whether foolish or wise, has not been the wanton lavishness of a man who could not restrain his desires; but the deliberate distribution, as I thought best, of the wealth I had received as a trust, while I yet lived, and had power over it. For what has been consumed by swindlers, your modern principles of trade are answerable; for the rest, none even of that confessed to have been given in the partiality of affection, has been bestowed but in real self-denial. My own complete satisfaction would have been in buying every Turner drawing I could afford, and passing quiet days at Brantwood between my garden and my gallery, praised, as I should have been, by all the world, for doing good to myself.

I do not doubt, had God condemned me to that selfishness, He would also have inflicted on me the curse of happiness in it. But He has led me by other ways, of which my friends who are wise and kind, neither as yet praising me, nor condemning, may one day be gladdened in witness of a nobler issue.

III. The following letter, with the extracts appended to it, will be of interest, in connection with our present initiation of closer Bible study for rule of conduct....

* Leviticus x. 19.

** This is essentially what my friend Mr. Harrison means (if he knew it) by his “Religion of Humanity,”— one which he will find, when he is slightly more advanced in the knowledge “of all life and thought,” was known and acted on in epochs considerably antecedent to that of modern Evolution.

*** Counted at the time;— I am not quite sure now if seventeen or eighteen.

**** Not because I am ashamed of them, nor because their Art teaching is wrong; (it is precisely the Art teaching which I am now gathering out of the ‘Stones of Venice,’ and will gather, God willing, out of ‘Modern Painters,’ and reprint and reaffirm every syllable of it;) but the Religious teach-ing of those books, and all the more for the sincerity of it, is misleading sometimes even poisonous; always, in a manner, ridiculous; and shall not stand in any editions of them republished under my own supervision.

***** The drawing I made of the Bride is now in the Oxford schools, and the Property of those schools, and King Alfred. But I will ask the Trustees to lend it to the Sheffield Museum, till I can copy it for you, of which you are to observe, please, that it had to be done in a dark place, from a fresco on a vaulted roof which could no more be literally put on a flat surface than the figures on a Greek vase.

****** I have the best antiquarian in Venice as authority for this date my own placing of them would have been in the eleventh.

******* 15,000 Bank Stock,

******** I count Consols as thousands, forty thousand of this were in stocks.

******** Fortune also went always against me. I gave carte-blanche at Christie’s for Turner’s drawing of Terni (five inches by seven), and it cost me five hundred pounds. I put a limit of two hundred on the Roman Forum, and it was bought over me for a hundred and fifty, and I gnash my teeth whenever I think of it, because a commission had been given up to three hundred.

********* ‘Brant,’ Westmoreland for steep.

********** Counting from last April fool’s day to this.